When you live in Los Angeles, you get pretty used to doing things in your car. It’s not uncommon to look over at a red light and see someone attempting to shave, applying makeup before an audition, or wildly gesturing their way through a meeting that’s somehow become a Bluetooth conference call.
But of all the things you do in the car, eating is by far the most depressing. Not just because it’s extremely hard to get burrito juice off of leather seats, but because most of the time, you really could spare thirty minutes for a quick meal. Especially at one of these counter service spots - perfect for when you absolutely, positively cannot do another meal where your steering wheel doubles as a napkin.
Don’t be fooled by the line out the door at Dave’s - you’ll be in-and-out in no time. This popular spot on Western cycles through crowds very quickly, and serves great hot chicken (at very reasonable prices) in the process. Combo #1, two huge tenders and fries for $10.99, is absolutely enough for a meal, and the chicken is seriously spicy - the waiver they make you sign if you order the hottest version (“Reaper” level) is just for show, but it’s also not too far from being necessary.
Not to be confused with the full-service, sit-down version in Sherman Oaks, Mizlala West Adams is ideal when your “lunch hour” is really more like 20 minutes. Despite a small-ish menu, there are a bunch of options here. You can order falafel, kefta (spiced lamb and beef patties), or chicken shewarma in a pita, on a salad, or as a platter with hummus and pickles. Our favorites are the kefta platter and the falafel pita, but no matter what you order, make sure you take advantage of the full-blown pickle station that’s off to the side of the open kitchen.
A tiny spot in East Hollywood, BBQ + Rice is an ideal place for a quick lunch or dinner. They serve Korean rice bowls, including things like spicy pork, beef bulgogi, and a galbi jjim that tastes like really excellent beef stew. Every bowl comes with some version of their house-made pickles, but we recommend grabbing an extra container to supplement your rice and meat. They’ve also got a parking lot, so you can spent less time searching for a spot, and more time eating.
Provami is right in the middle of West Hollywood, makes good Neapolitan-style pizza, and is an ideal place to eat a quick meal before meeting up with friends at Melrose Umbrella Co. Despite all that, it’s never too busy, and we’re not quite sure why - this is great food for the price, in a neighborhood that really needs a quick, affordable pizza spot. The Provami Signature is our favorite - it’s pizza-shaped, enclosed in dough like a calzone, stuffed with salami, mozzarella and ricotta, and is an ideal way to start any night out.
“Quick and affordable” usually only applies to T-shirt stands and smoke shops on the Venice Boardwalk - unless you’re talking about Teddy’s Red Tacos. The first permanent location of a South Park taco truck, Teddy’s Venice has the same fantastic red beef birria as the mobile version, only right by the beach. And though that beef birria is the only thing they serve, you can get it a variety of ways: As tacos, vampiros, or quesatacos - but we recommend just getting them all in the Deluxe Plate for $14.
In LA, almost every neighborhood falafel spot is pretty good - but none of them are quite as good as Dune (lucky you, Atwater). The green herb falafel wrap is served on house-made flatbread, is perfectly crisp, seasoned very well, and comes with pickles and shoestring fries on top. We’d eat it for lunch or dinner any day of the week. Don’t forget to order the rosemary lemonade, too - it’s not too sweet, and extremely refreshing.
Gjelina Take Away is the counter service version of Gjelina, and is just as much a staple in Venice as its larger sibling restaurant. Plus, the food is just as good, and much more affordable. It’s easy to feel like a stereotype ordering kale salad in Venice, but the one here is so good that we really don’t care. For something a little less healthy, go for the brisket banh mi or pork meatball sandwich - they’re both great, and come on Gjusta’s bread. After you order at the counter, head to the adjacent alley and you’ll find some seating.
Chaaste is a family-run Filipino market in Pasadena, just off the 210. You walk through a convenience store to get to the dining room, where they’re serving Filipino classics like adobo chicken, stir-fried fish paste with eggplant, and pork lumpia - all cafeteria-style. Add a couple chicken sticks (seasoned chicken thighs on a skewer) to whatever you order - they’re salty and extremely addictive. And don’t leave without getting a box of Mama’s Turon. These sticky, flaky desserts are like jumbo-sized lumpia stuffed with banana.
The top-ranked pizza spot on our site is also the best one in town for a quick meal. Because unlike the other best pizza places in town, you can get slices here, and don’t have to spend $28 on a whole pie in order to get your fix. The toppings rotate pretty regularly, but our go-tos are the sausage and kale, the asparagus, and the potato. You can be in-and-out in 10 minutes, but we’re usually here much longer... because we keep going back for more.
Mini Kabob is a Glendale institution and a place you go to eat incredible, affordable kebabs and chat with the eccentric elderly couple who run the place. Most of the kebabs inside this dime-sized spot cost around $12, but if you’re able to eat the entire plate in one sitting (it comes with rice, vegetables, hummus, and pita), then you’ve definitely earned the right to take a nap under your desk later today. Also, be sure to try the eggplant caviar and Tarragon soda. Cash only.
Located inside the Union Swapmeet in East Hollywood (when you walk in, head to the left), Baroo Canteen is a tiny stall serving modern Korean-ish food that you’ll be thinking about for days afterwards. Whether it’s kimchi prawn toast, pastrami fried rice, or a Korean fried chicken bowl, this is some of the best food we’ve eaten in a while, but due to the impending demolition of the building, it won’t be around for much longer. So check their Instagram to make sure they’re open, and drive there right now.
Woon Kitchen is a family-run Chinese restaurant in Historic Filipinotown that we always end up at, simply because the food is good and we can get in-and-out quickly. At lunch, we order the tofu fishcakes and beef noodles, but if you’re rolling in with some friends, definitely make sure the fried rice with Chinese sausage and pork belly bao end up on the table as well. Regardless, sitting on their front patio for a half hour beats eating in your car any day.
There are plenty of spots offering quick meals in downtown Santa Monica. The problem is that most of them are either national chains, or places so terrible you wouldn’t even send your nemesis from HR there. Luckily, you can just go to HiHo. This tiny spot a block off The Promenade has one of our favorite classic burgers in the entire city (just onions, lettuce, pickles, and cheese) served in a modern space that’s ideal for sitting and silently meditating into your food. After you’ve found your Zen, be sure to order a slice of key lime pie.
It’s not often we eat inside mall food courts, but when we do, it’s at the Westfield Santa Anita. The gigantic shopping center in the SGV is packed with excellent Chinese restaurants, and one of our favorites is Side Chick. This tiny stall has everything from cold soba noodles to chicken soup on their menu, but you’re here for one thing - Hainan chicken, a mix of both white and dark meat served with seasoned cucumbers, ginger scallion sauce, and some of the best garlic rice we’ve ever eaten. It’s a remarkably simple and delicious dish that’s perfect for a kind-of-healthy lunch before a long day of shopping.
With a name like Tasty Food To Go, and a location inside an old house in Long Beach that doubles as a barber shop, this tiny Thai/Laotian restaurant certainly doesn’t lack intrigue. All we know for sure is that this to-go only spot (owned by the same guy who runs the barber shop) serves some of our favorite food in the area. The best Thai dishes here are the panang curry and pad see ew, and on the Laotian side of the menu, we love the nam tok (sliced beef with mint and chili peppers) and the larb (spicy minced chicken).
LA has several very famous delis - Olsons is not one of them. Located on Pico in Mid-City, this Scandinavian deli/market has been around since the 1940s, and yet, somehow still feels like a complete secret. The menu has everything from pickled herring to meatballs and shrimp skagen (basically a Scandinavian shrimp roll), and it’s all fantastic. Couple that with a bright space that never gets too crowded, and over 70 different kinds of imported Swedish candies, and you’ll struggle to find a reason to ever leave.
Los Cinco Puntos is a neighborhood market/deli in Boyle Heights that’s also one of our favorite taco spots in all of LA. You’ll find families picking up fresh-cut meat for dinner, teenagers drinking soda out front after school, and everybody else eating those tacos. The carnitas is their speciality, and while it’s fantastic, the crispy chicharron is even better. Frankly though, when the tortillas are as thick, yet melt-in-your-mouth delicious as they are here, we’ll drive across the city to eat anything they’re wrapped around.
Westwood is home to some of the best Persian food in LA, and if you’re looking for an entry point, go to Attari. Unlike some of the larger sit-down places along Westwood Blvd., this small sandwich shop keeps things quick, casual, and affordable. There are around 15 different sandwiches on the menu (as well as a few kebabs and appetizers), but we recommend going for their house specialty, the tongue. It’s an incredibly well-balanced sandwich, and if the name makes you nervous, just know there’s nothing adventurous about it. On weekends, expect a line.